Community policing in urban areas tends to be hobbled by arithmetic: Too many crooks to chase, too few cops to do the chasing.
The Federal Way Police Department has deployed a 21st-century strategy to help tilt the math in favor of the good guys. It revolves around a website, safecityfw.com, run by a nonprofit outfit called Safe City Federal Way.
Puget Sound cities that haven’t taken their community policing efforts online should take a look.
The original version of community policing was just an old-fashioned cop walking a regular neighborhood beat. A good officer in the shoe-leather days might get to know hundreds of locals on a personal basis. They’d tip the officer off to offenders, suspicious doings and kids starting to go bad (who’d get a friendly but stern talking-to).
Modern law enforcement agencies often attempt to replicate the same kind of alliances with neighborhoods. They’ve been successful in such places as Tacoma’s Hilltop, but rapid response calls and urgent detective work still consume most of their resources.
Federal Way has found another way to replicate the beat: controlled-access social networks. Federal Way Police Commander Chris Norman described safecityfw.com as the most exciting law enforcement development he’s seen in his 30-year career. “It’s a huge force multiplier,” he said.
Safe City Federal Way started as an effort to expand the use of crime-prevention surveillance cameras; it was funded with the help of a $100,000 grant from Target and $180,000 from the city budget.
But the web platform itself cost only $1,500 to set up and requires only $1,500 a year to maintain, Norman said.
The website is grouped by large residential areas – Twin Lakes, for example, and Marine Hills – as well as by neighborhoods, retailers, property owners and managers.
You can’t join unless you belong to the group. Each group has a volunteer administrator who monitors postings and controls access. Neighborhoods join by naming themselves and picking an administrator.
The platform serves many purposes. Police post photos of suspects; members watch for them. Members post descriptions of vehicles or apparent prowlers; police check into them.
When crimes are reported, they’re flagged on a map that reveals proximity and patterns. Officers and members can blast out reports, comments and warnings to everyone within a group. Hundreds of people can communicate instantaneously; police and citizens stay connected in real time.
Successful law enforcement depends on citizens who trust cops and are willing to serve as their eyes and ears. A program like Safe City Federal Way could expand these relationships dramatically. The city deserves credit for what looks like a major innovation in police work.